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New report from Project U-Turn finds more high school students earning diplomas, but room for greater gains.

Category: Project U-Turn | Jun 2, 2015

Philadelphia (May 20, 2015) - Mayor Michael A. Nutter received a report which showed that graduation rates are increasing and dropout rates are decreasing overall among Philadelphia high school students, updating a 2006 study of the city’s dropout crisis. The report offers a roadmap for the School District, as well as the city and its partners, as they strive to further increase the numbers of students who graduate.

The report, A Promise Worth Keeping: Advancing the High School Graduation Rate, was published as a follow-up to the 2006 study, Unfulfilled Promise, The Dimensions and Characteristics of Philadelphia’s Dropout Crisis, 2000–2005, by Project U-Turn. The citywide dropout-prevention collaborative, established in 2006, is composed of students and representatives from the School District, city agencies, foundations, and youth-serving organizations.

Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, co-chair of Project U-Turn and President and CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network, which hosts the dropout-prevention collaborative, says the report continues to put a much needed spotlight on struggling students and out-of-school youth and offers a valuable guide for Project U-Turn to build upon its successes so far.

"Project U-Turn and its partners have accomplished much over the last eight years since the release of Unfulfilled Promise in 2006,” said Fulmore-Townsend. "Nevertheless, Philadelphia's on-time graduation rate remains 19 percentage points below the state average and 16 percentage points below the national average. This disparity shows a clear need for continued efforts to enhance—but also expand—services and supports offered to both in- and out-of-school youth."

Said Mayor Nutter: "I am pleased to see release of this report. It not only shows the improvements that Philadelphia has made in graduation rates, but also outlines the need for continued, focused effort to increase those gains. We have made real strides, but we still have work to do. The funding plan I have proposed would fill the Philadelphia School District’s current budget shortfall and make a significant investment in Dr. Hite’s bold new model for public education in our city. Our schools have made progress with insufficient funding. With adequate resources, we can prepare our children for fruitful lives in our growing economy."

Based on research conducted by PolicyLab at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Johns Hopkins University, A Promise Worth Keeping tracks what has happened regarding high school dropouts in Philadelphia since the time of the original study.  In 2006, about half of the ninth graders entering the city’s public high schools went on to graduate in four years. That share has risen to 64 percent, an increase of 12 percentage points, according to the new report. Dropout rates have fallen, too, from 29 percent among the 2003-04 entering class to 25 percent for the 2008-09 entering class.

Students of all races are earning diplomas at higher rates than before, the report says, with Hispanic and Asian students demonstrating the greatest gains. Graduation rates among students in the city’s Department of Human Services and juvenile justice systems are also on the rise, though they still lag behind those of other students. And the report finds that important indicators of progress towards graduation, like school attendance and grade promotions, are up, too.

Mayor Nutter, who has made educational attainment improvements and job readiness priorities in his administration, welcomed the new report, hailing the advances cited since the last study and pressing on the work yet to be done.

Other key findings include:

  • Graduation rates increased for black and Hispanic male students but remain lower than those of white and Asian students and female students of all races and ethnicities.
  • Over the study period, youth involved in the Department of Human Services, including students in foster care, showed dramatic improvements in graduation rates. Only 28 percent of the foster care students who entered ninth grade in 2002-03 earned a diploma within four years. Among the 2008-09 foster care cohort, 44 percent graduated on time.
  • Among female students who gave birth before or during high school, graduation rates jumped from 31 percent to 42 percent between the 2002-03 and 2008-09 entering classes.
  • Of the students from the 2008-09 ninth grade class who dropped out, 54 percent re-engaged in the school system, up from 47 percent of the dropouts from the 2002-03 cohort who did so.
  • But the graduation rates of those dropouts who re-engaged remained steady, at roughly 35 percent, suggesting that re-engagement programs still need to improve pathways to diplomas.

Among the next steps Project U-Turn has planned:

  • Focus on at-risk students, such as youth who are pregnant or parenting, and on African-American and Latino males.
  • Increase the capacity and rigor of alternative pathways to diplomas offered both inside and outside the School District, establishing performance targets and oversight so that the most effective programs can be replicated.
  • Revitalize and expand Philadelphia’s Re-Engagement Center, providing students individualized case management and counseling and improved referrals to programs best suited to their academic, health and social-emotional needs.
  • Raise additional funds to support dropout recovery and prevention efforts, and advocate at state and federal levels for workforce and education policies that promote such efforts.

David Rubin, co-director of PolicyLab, agrees that resources and attention are critical for further progress.

"It was remarkable that we saw an increase in graduation rates despite leadership turnover and fiscal challenges in the School District, particularly among our youth in child welfare and the juvenile justice system," he says. "But, with many of the support staff who were critical in this success now gone, these data should unequivocally reinforce the need for a strong and renewed investment to return those critical resources to the District and build upon the success we observed."

For more information or to see a copy of the report, A Promise Worth Keeping, view:

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